Challenge #01981-E157: One Educational Day on a Strange New World

in fiction •  last month

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Due to the dangerous and rather... peculiar circumstances of the mission, all crew members were assigned a personal “guardian human”.
Your human seems to hate you. At least if their glare and “sarcasm” is anything to go off of. You’ve already tried all the suggested bonding methods but you’re certain that she wouldn’t hesitate to leave you (to die! On that gods-forsaken planet!) if given the chance.
But then the storm came. -- Anon Guest

Edge Territory Planetary Survey, or ETPlaS for short, is one of those work forces one joins for the Hazard Pay. On the plus side, everyone doing EVA gets both a Guardian Human and a Human Bonus. Because the Humans are their own kind of dangerous. They're Deathworlders, often describing their own planet as 'space Australia'. And since they had a region on their own planet that was inherently hostile to life, they were a species to definitely not mess with.

Horx was uneasy with hir Human. They seemed indifferent at best and angry at worst. Their command of GalStand was crude and abrupt. If they could string more than ten words together, it was in one of the Human tongues they shared with the others on the mission. As far as communicating with Horx was concerned, a majority of it was tonal inflections around the ur-word, "Ay".

Right now, Human Shaz was using it because they had spotted a fellow human. "AAAAAYYYY!"

There was no need to shout, but the humans felt it necessary. They weren't entirely used to the comms system and much preferred bellowing at each other. The other Human, named Tim, responded in kind. Any second now, they'd start cursing at each other.

"Timmaaaayyyy. Howyagoinyasheepfuckinarsehole!"

"Shazzaaaaa! Whazzupyamufflickindyke!"

This, of course, meant that they were old friends. Through a series of crudities and hostile gestures, they exchanged what passed for news amongst humans. It was the most animated that Human Shaz had been for days. But then, humans looked after humans. The proof of that was the final cry of, "Onyerleft!" which alerted Human Shaz to the presence of an approaching predator.

Humans were very good at subduing animals. Horx had seen a small pack of Humans track and follow a particular specimen until it was nearly exhausted to death. They could have easily slaughtered it and taken it back to base in pieces, but they chose to take their samples and administer some palliative care before letting it live. That was the true terror of pursuit predators.

But this one, Human Shaz, simply pressed down Horx with a cautionary, "Aayy..." and proceeded to punch the approaching predator in the nose. The beast was stunned, then subdued and bound. "Wanting parts?" Human Shaz asked in GalStand. 'Samples' was too complex a word for these creatures. 'Parts' got to the essence of it without being too difficult for their barbaric tongues.

Horx got the Human to hold the maw open, gathering samples of DNA, venom, and sputum. Then Human Shaz held it down while Horx gathered blood, fur, and skin samples. Horx could sympathise with the beast when Human Shaz released it. Scrambling for the safety of somewhere far, far away felt like a very good idea.

Horx tried to remain polite, all the same. Remembering good-manners-for-humans and being careful about hir wording. Sometimes lapsing into Broken GalStand Basic and gesturing. It didn't seem to help. Human Shaz kept up a low growl of muttering the entire time they were out in the field. They even wandered off at random moments, seemingly abandoning Horx on a whim.

"Ay," Human Shaz directed Horx's attention to the sky. Pointing at some rapidly approaching weather. "Bad sky, running?"

An oncoming storm. Horx fumbled for hir portable shelter, but Human Shaz knocked hir hands away. "Bad house," the Human insisted. "Running. Running now!"

And if a Human wanted to run, one listened. Human Shaz grabbed Horx and raced across the landscape for an overhang in some nearby rocks. One that had something of a small cave of a shelter. It didn't take long for Horx to find out why the Human was spooked. Some of the clouds were made out of uprooted trees. Swirling around in the upper portions of the lower atmosphere.

Horx's shelter just fit under the overhang, and the human set it up at an awkward angle. There was lots of arguing. In this case, the Human yelling, "No! Bad!" and forcing things into a different configuration. Ending with an ill-mannered shove, forcing Horx inside.

By the time Horx got hirself sorted out, there was no sign of the Human through the one usable window in the shelter.

And then the storm hit.

Even with the rock overhead, the shelter got tossed about. Bucking and jumping about like one of the Humans' legendary wild horses. Horx tried the emergency channel, but it was already overwhelmed by the terrified shrieking of hir fellow Rhipidrans. The channel was clogged with emergencies.

And Horx was left alone.

Abandoned by a Human.

For a terrifying half-hour, the habitat bucked and jumped. And then it stopped abruptly, despite the howling weather outside. Rocks had appeared outside the one window. Large, roughly rounded ones.

And then the haze-obfuscated figure of a Human in their livesuit. Giving a non-obscene gesture. The upraised opposed digit. Good tidings. I'm okay. Are you okay?

Out of breath and a little stunned, Horx folded hir wing-arm in a similar sign. I'm going to live. I'm actually going to live.

Human Shaz dragged most of a native tree over to their cave and used it as an improvised airlock so they, too, could enter the shelter without letting too much of the storm in. When they did, it was with a halo of dust, leaves and pollen, popping their helm open to laugh uproariously at the recent turn of events.

This was a wow-I-survived-that laugh. And once they finished venting, they manually checked Horx for signs of injury or distress. "All good, tiny bird?"

It was the singsong tone and the gentle manhandling that disturbed Horx the most. "Me thinking you hating me," ze said. "Me thinking pack bond fail."

"Aaawww..." cooed Human Shaz, gathering Horx into their arms for a careful embrace. "I'masternmum. Guarding pack bond. Big guard, much fierce. Woof. Growl." Gentle fingers groomed Horx's feathers. Human Shaz guarded Horx with their body. Nursed Horx with careful touch and occasional fragments of field rations. "Much bad Human making bad noises? Shaz guard Horx, yes?"

It took a while, but there was little else to distract them until the storm blew over. Horx eventually understood that Human Shaz only seemed ferocious and hostile because that was their way of being protective. Human Shaz wasn't certain what contact and interaction was desired from Horx, and went with trying to be a reassuring badass. They hadn't realised they were coming off as a hostile badass at all.

And the constant, low-grade muttering was Shaz taking their own notes about their mission. Translated into GalStand, they were quite interesting.

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / AlgolOnline]

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